Josh Jacobs was the toughest rusher in the NFL to tackle in 2022. Dalvin Cook has become almost the opposite. Saquon Barkley keeps on churning when the chips are down. Lamar Jackson led the league in some surprising categories in a half-season's work. And Aaron Rodgers took a lot of lumps from his rookie receivers last year, which could make a difference for the New York Jets this year.
Yes, that’s right: this essay says NICE things about Rodgers.
It’s time for a start-of-summer tour of some unofficial NFL leaderboards from the 2022 season. Most of the league leaders listed below come from the Sports Info Solutions database, though I grab some numbers from other sources.
All of the stats, rates and splits can help make better-informed fantasy decisions in 2023. They can tell us a thing or two about which teams are likely to rise or fall as well.
Jacobs did not actually lead the league in this category, which we’ll shorten to BT+MT%. Justin Fields did, with broken/missed tackles on 30.0% of runs. Lamar Jackson was second with a BT+MT% of 23.4%. But BT+MT% rates are higher on scrambles, when the field is wide open and all heck is breaking loose. Jacobs led all running backs; Aaron Jones was second at 22.1%, Kenneth Walker third at 21.9%.
Jacobs led the NFL with 47 broken tackles on rushes in 2022, six more than second-place finisher Derrick Henry. He also caused a league high-32 missed tackles, one more than Fields; Walker finished a distant second among running backs with 22.
Different sources will produce different results, because broken and missed tackles are not official statistics, but you get the idea: Jacobs was nearly impossible to tackle last year. And Jacobs’ broken/missed tackle rates have always been good-to-great: he finished fifth among running backs with a BT+MT% of 19.4% in 2021.
Jacobs, currently franchise-tagged, is hinting that he will hold out, but he won’t: the current collective bargaining agreement penalizes players HEAVILY for holding out while under contract. (If Aaron Rodgers didn’t hold out when he wanted to throw Brian Gutekunst down an elevator shaft two years ago, no one ever will again). Jacobs’ high BT+MT% reveals that he should have no trouble handling another heavy workload and generating yardage in the Raiders offense in 2023, no matter how dysfunctional that offense becomes.
Surprising? Not even a teensy-weensy bit. But look at that number: Samuel escaped a tackle on half of his receptions! Steelers running back Najeh Harris finished second in the NFL at 43.9% in a category dominated by rushers. Deebo’s teammate Jauan Jennings finished second among wide receivers with 50+ targets at 25.7%, almost half of Deebo’s rate. Deebo is truly one of a kind.
Think of all of those missed tackles as an insurance policy. Speculating on Trey Lance as a fantasy sleeper? Samuel helps make him viable. Stuck with Brock Purdy due to an injury crisis, just like Kyle Shanahan was? Deebo can help him produce numbers. Sam Darnold in the 49ers lineup? Deebo will keep the whole offense from falling apart.
And of course, Deebo himself remains one of the most reliable receivers in the NFL when healthy.
Don’t you just hate it when a team falls behind 3-0 and abandons the run like it’s a 1974 Ford Pinto in a gully next to the turnpike? The Giants don’t do that. Barkley rushed 147 times for 726 yards with the Giants trailing in 2022. Both figures were league highs. Josh Jacobs finished second in carries at 144. No wonder these guys are threatening to hold out. They worked their tails off last year!
(Falcons running back Tyler Allgeier finished second in rushing yards with his team trailing at 715. A fellow named Bijan Robinson will likely eat into that production a bit).
Barkley’s holdout, like Jacobs’, will end before the back-to-school sales start at Target begin. (What? They’ve already begun? Fine: the holdouts won’t reach late July). The Giants’ willingness to stick to the run when trailing will insulate Saquon’s fantasy production if the Giants take a step back in a difficult division.
As for Barkley’s injuries and habit of looking ordinary for long stretches, we cannot help you there.
Different outlets provide different dropped-pass numbers; the figures in this segment come from Pro Football Reference.
Rodgers, as you might recall, was plagued by dropped passes. Rookies Romeo Doubs and Christian Watson combined for 13 drops according to PFR, while running backs A.J. Dillon and Aaron Jones combined for 13 more.
The high Packers drop rate suggests that Rodgers’ statistically-weak (by his standards) 2022 season was not just the result of age. Rodgers could bounce back when surrounded by more experienced receivers. The high drop rate could also spell trouble for Jordan Love, who inherits all of the playmakers mentioned above, plus lots of rookies who might suffer some early-season whoopsies.
As for Lawrence, Evan Engram was NOT the primary culprit. The tight end with titanium hands dropped “just” five passes. Zay Jones dropped 13 per PFR (nine, per SIS) and Christian Kirk added seven (per both outlets) on 133 targets.
Calvin Ridley’s return and more time together should help Lawrence and his receivers shave some drops off their figures.
Neither Rodgers nor Lawrence led the NFL in dropped pass rate. Lamar Jackson lost 8.4% of his pass attempts to drops in a half-season’s work. More on Jackson in a moment.
The Vikings released Cook last week because his cap figures were high and the team is low-key rebuilding, not because Cook can’t play anymore. But the analytics-oriented Vikings front office had to have also noticed that Cook led the NFL in getting stuffed for no gain or a loss last season.
Stuffs are a product of many variables, including the quality of a running back’s offensive line (the Vikings interior line was a supermarket self-checkout lane last year) and the number of times a rusher gets the ball when the defense knows what is coming (Derrick Henry and Nick Chubb finished second and third to Cook). So Cook is not to blame for many of those stuffs. But why pay a running back $12-million when he has so little impact on his own statistics?
Looking at things another way, Cook got hit at or behind the line of scrimmage 102 times (sixth in the NFL) and gained just 48 yards on those runs. Derrick Henry got hit at or behind the line 158 times but managed to hammer out 215 hard fought yards, while Chubb gained 281 yards on 146 would-be stuffs. Cook is no longer doing what his fellow every-down battering rams can do.
Oh, and before you hurry off to draft Alexander Mattison, his stuff rate (24.3%) was even higher than Cook’s (23.5%), and the Vikings interior line returns intact this season.
Looking for a wide receiver who scores lots of touchdowns? It may help to find one who is targeted in the end zone often, whether on bombs or fades at the goal line. Metcalf led the NFL in this category by a significant margin; Amari Cooper and Davante Adams finished second with 16 targets in the end zone each.
Metcalf’s 21 targets in the end zone resulted in just four touchdowns because only eight of those passes were marked as “catchable;” Geno Smith was much better than expected last year, but he’s no deep-ball sharpshooter. It's worth noting, however, that catchable end-zone targets are pretty rare: Stefon Diggs led the NFL with 10 last year. So let’s cut Geno some slack: it’s hard to thread the needle in the corner of the end zone.
Metcalf also received 15 end-zone targets in 2021, resulting in seven touchdowns. He’s huge and fast, so of course he’s a prime target for jump balls. With a little luck and more reps with Geno, four touchdowns one season could become seven or more the next.
Justin Fields rushed for 1,143 yards last year, nearly breaking the all-time rushing record for quarterbacks set by Jackson in 2019. But 645 of those yards came on scrambles, as opposed to zone-reads, options, or other designed quarterback runs. Despite missing six full games, Jackson remained the king of running on his own terms, averaging 6.7 yards per rush on 78 keepers.
So Jackson remains the NFL’s most dangerous read-option threat. And we learned a few paragraphs ago that he was victimized for more dropped passes per attempt than any other quarterback in the NFL last year. Newcomers Odell Beckham and Zay Flowers, replacing a parade of injury replacements, should improve that dropped pass rate. (We refuse to pretend that Nelson Agholor can improve a team’s dropped-pass rate). And Jackson is healthy and wealthy now, of course.
Are we sleeping a little bit on a former NFL MVP? If so, this tour of the leaderboards is a wakeup call.